Motherhood presents itself with many different challenges. Some days are easier than others. In today’s MomViews segment, Teresa of Embracing The Spectrum shares insights on coping with autism in her family.
MomViews: I love hearing about parents who take the time out to care for their children, and having two boys isn’t easy. Your oldest son, Squeaker, is autistic. My nephew was recently diagnosed as well. How are you and your family coping with this change?
Teresa: I would like to introduce a slight change in verbiage. You see, my son, Squeaker, is not autistic. My son is a seven year old boy. He loves animals, loves math and reading, and can memorize just about anything. He loves giving hugs and kisses. He also happens to have autism. I used to make the mistake of saying he is autistic, but he is not the disorder. That is a diagnosis. That is not who he is. That would be like saying I am depression and anxiety. Yes, I suffer from depression and anxiety. But, I am not depression and anxiety. There are challenges that come with both autism and depression, yes? We adapt. Fortunately, I learned coping skills to deal with my depression. We must teach our children how to cope with a disability that they will always deal with. Mostly, though, we must learn to change the way we speak to them, about them, and in front of them. True, my son went from easy-going to, well, not, by the time he was about 18 months old. We had to learn to deal with that. But, nothing is wrong with him. All of that was a result of his response to the environment around him, communication delays, and our lack of knowledge of how best to handle that. Inside, he is still our son. That realization must still hold true in our hearts and bear repeating over and over, even on the hard days.
MV: Based on your blog, it seems you and your husband have been doing a great job with raising your boys. Despite the challenges, what pushes you to keep trying?
T: First of all, thank you. We do our best, we’re not perfect, but we always hope that our children will reflect good parenting. Both of our children bring us great joy every single day. Every night we get hugs and kisses and do story time and it’s just wonderful. I love snuggling with them and their silly little jokes and random animal noises. But every child, whether he or she has a disability or not, has challenges, so why would I just stop trying? Something resonated with me at a conference I recently attended when this wonderful speaker named Kathie Snow (you should look her up) begged the question, “Is this a disability issue, or a human being issue?” Don’t we all have bad days? Yes, Squeaker’s bad days may look a bit worse than another child’s bad days. Some of his tantrums might surprise you. But, the triggers may be no different than any other person’s. Why shouldn’t I continue to love and support him the same as I would my other child? Every child deserves love. Every child deserves stability and the knowledge that their parents will always be there for them.
MV: Do you ever feel family or friends treat your boys different from one another because of Squeaker’s behaviors?
T: I think we’ve gotten more assertive over the years about this issue. I tend to redirect one-sided comments about Big Guy “behaving so well” or about how easy he is. The comparison is an implied comparison, but it’s there. I’m guilty of feeling that way myself, but the reality is, Big Guy can be quite the pill himself sometimes. Let me tell you, that kid has stubbornness like no other. Perhaps we’re able to discipline him and it works a bit more easily, but, man, I can see the teenage years coming! He’s got mommy’s sarcasm down already and he’s only three. Sometimes, when I go back to think about the things he’s said; I can only laugh about it. But trust me, Big Guy has got his own little personality and he can antagonize his brother just as much as his brother picks on him. Sometimes he instigates. I know that no one really sees that side of him because they don’t live with him, but he can be a little stinker. I love them both dearly, but when they’re tired, hungry, etc., you know what to expect from kids. I just think that people don’t understand the dynamics of our household sometimes and they see Squeaker as the only child that exhibits any behaviors. I think my side of the family is less guilty of this because they see the children a bit more than my husband’s family does. But, I find that when someone compliments Big Guy for behaving well, saying something to Squeaker about his good behavior usually makes them think about their word choices more. Point: Both of my children deserve praise if they’re both behaving.
MV: What advice would you give a mother who recently found out her child is autistic and cannot seem to cope with it?
T: I’m going to go back to my first answer and change the verbiage again to tell her that her child is not autistic. Her child has autism. I would ask her to tell me her child’s strengths and focus on those, not on the disability diagnosis. I would tell her what I know about autism and that she should still have hopes and dreams for her child just like she did before she got a diagnosis. There are resources out there (assistive technology) to help her child communicate, learn, make friends, and cope with the overwhelming environment. If my husband and I had been asked three years ago if my son would function near grade level, read, and pretty much be a math expert, I’m sure we’d have looked at your like you were crazy. But, we carried on, and pushed for more, and we never gave up. Now I know that he can do anything. I know that without question. If someone asks me if I think he’ll go to college, I can say with confidence that if that’s what he wants to do, I’m sure he will. It’s all about what he wants. Don’t give up your dreams for your child just because you got a diagnosis. I’ve seen amazing videos where people with autism have astounding intelligence unlocked by assistive technology. Frustration comes from a person unable to communicate wants and needs effectively. I don’t care what anyone says–no child wants to misbehave. No child wants to do poorly. EVERY child wants success and the feeling of accomplishment. Hold on to hope. Hold on to it like your life depends on it. Your child’s life is at stake here.